Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Malta Star: Cohabitation bill disappoints gays

Tuesday, 28 Aug 2012, 12:37

The Cohabitation Bill proposed by Justice Minister Chris Said will allow for registration of gay couples but does not recognize gay civil partnerships and falls short of what gays have expected and demanded.

MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando who has resigned from the PN and declared himself independent wrote on Facebook after the bill was made public today: “The proposed bill which provides for the regulation of cohabitation is a long-overdue step in the right direction. I may be proposing some amendments at the appropriate moment during the forthcoming parliamentary debate.”

Registered couples will be granted next of kin rights such as hospital visitation rights.

A gay partner from a non-EU country will start enjoying protection in the area of work and residence rights.

The law bill provides that a couple, heterosexual or same sex, may register their partnership before a notary. In such a contract the partners would list their obligations and responsibilities to each other but such arrangements are not recognised as families.

Last November after losing the divorce referendum the PN approved a document saying that the state "must legislate wherever necessary to establish the rights and responsibilities of such relationships for both heterosexuals and homosexuals".

The PN knew that legislation to recognize civil partnerships for gays was to be included in the coming Labour Party electoral programme.

In January 2009 in parliament I criticised Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg for responding in a cynical and derisory manner to Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat who declared himself in favour of recognizing the rights of gay or cohabitating couples during the debate on the rent reform legislation. Borg’s homophobic attitude was in stark contrast to what the PN had told gay people during the 2008 electoral campaign.

On the eve of the 2008 election the PN leadership met representatives of the Malta Gay Rights Movement. The MGRM had submitted a list of proposals for the manifesto, but the most important for them had been the regulation and legal protection of such couples as enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.

Malta needed other legislation on civil partnerships of cohabitating or gay couples. It was the lack absence of such legislation that led the Labour Party to call for the introduction of civil rights of cohabiting straight and gay couples.
Long-standing cohabitating couples were scared of the prospects of one of the partners' death and the ensuing effects, which could render the surviving partner homeless. While straight couples can take compassionate leave to look after a dying or very sick partner, gay couples cannot look after each other in hospital and when a partner lies on his/her deathbed the partner cannot be with him/her like others.

The EU was proposing the insertion of a directive against discrimination of minorities, including gays. Till a short while ago the PN government was maintaining that the directive was still premature and that things should be allowed to mature before incorporating such a directive in Maltese law. But at the pre-election meeting in 2008 with the MGRM the government had said it was in favour of such a directive.

The bill can be downloaded:https://secure3.gov.mt/socialpolicy/SocProt/family/cohabitantsact.aspx

Those who wish to give their feedback have up till 30 September 2012 to do so. Comments are to be sent on: rights-cohabitation.mjdf@gov.mt

Alternattiva Demokratika reaction

Michael Briguglio, chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party, said that the proposed registration of same-sex couples in the cohabitation bill is not enough.

"While other parties propose civil unions or registered partnerships, AD is in synch with the proposals of MGRM for recognition of same-sex marriage. Only the right of marriage represents equality".

MGRM reaction

The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) said in a statement that it was involved in a number of consultation meetings with Minister Chris Said regarding the legal recognition of same-sex couples and their families. MGRM presented the Minister with its Position Paper on Marriage Equality published in January of this year which laid out the reasoning behind the Movement’s demands.

"It is hugely disappointing that the bill proposed does not accede to most of MGRM’s demands and fails to attain even the minimal level of recognition acceptable, that is civil unions at a par with marriage. As things stand, the bill acknowledges those who enter into a de jure cohabitation agreement as next of kin and grants residency rights to those who come from Third Countries but continues to exclude these couples from the government’s definition of family", MGRM said.

"For those same-sex headed households which also include children, the role and contribution of the non-biological parent is only recognised if and when the biological parent dies to the detriment of the children concerned. Those same-sex couples who are both registered on the child’s birth certificate as parents, as is possible for those children born in the UK and a number of other EU countries or Australia for example, it will not be able to register their child in Malta in a similar manner. In effect, the child will lose a legal parent on moving to Malta. This is unacceptable and considered to be an infringement of the child’s rights as well as a breach of the freedom of movement directive where EU citizens are concerned", MGRM added.

"While the government may chose to present this bill as a considerable step forward the Malta Gay Rights Movement holds that such a bill continues to stigmatise same-sex couples and their families as inferior by preventing access to equal rights and creating a separate form of recognition that is by far inferior to marriage. It also serves to justify and perpetuate the homophobia that exists in society. We call on the government to take a leadership role in this matter and ensure that all citizens have access to equal recognition before the law rather than allow for the prejudice and homophobia of some sectors of society from presenting a more just law", MGRM concluded.

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